June 24-25, 2017, Gray’s Lily, Lilium grayi, Roan Mountain Highlands and Drive on Blue Ridge Parkway

Posted under: North Carolina; Roadside Botanizing; Tennessee .

Gray’s Lily, Lillium grayi, photo by Jim Drake


It has been seven years since the last BotSoc trip to Roan Mountain. Time for an encore!  This weekend trip is sure to be one of the highlights of the field trip calendar.  Many thanks to trip leader Jim Drake for planning a return to this popular spot.  Remember  to make park cabin or motel reservations in advance. 

Scenic View on Roan Mountain, photo by Jim Drake

Description:    The Roan Mountain Highlands is one of the most spectacular areas in the Southern Appalachians for both stunning mountain views and a beautiful array of wildflowers. Roan Mountain Highlands is generally considered to be five peaks divided by Carver’s Gap – two peaks on one side and three peaks on the other side of the gap.

Meet:   9:00 am at the parking lot at Carver’s Gap on the TN/NC state line where NC Hwy 261 becomes TN Hwy 143. This road connects the town of Bakersville, North Carolina to the town of Roan Mountain, Tennessee. At Carver’s Gap, parking is available beside the road and at an adjacent small parking lot. Parking is often at a premium, so contact the field trip leader about car pooling.

Hiking on June 24: We will ascend two balds on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and continue on another trail to the final bald.  The first is Round Bald, and requires a moderate climb of about 100 feet to the summit (elevation 5826 ft.). From Round Bald, we continue northbound along the AT for another 0.7 miles through Engine Gap to the summit of Jane Bald, losing and regaining about 200 feet. Near this point, the trail splits with the left trail continuing on the AT and the right trail leading to the third bald, Grassy Ridge Bald. The climb up is approximately 500 feet to its summit (elevation 6189 feet). The panoramic views from the summit are breath-taking. On a clear day one can see Grandfather, Beech and Sugar Mountains toward the east and Mount Mitchell and Black Mountain toward the south.

Difficulty:  The trail is about 5.1 miles round trip, but participants can hike all or part of the trip. The trail is well maintained, but parts of the trail are strenuous, rocky, and steep.

Along the way, we may see two rare Geum, the Gray’s Lilies, Hypericum spp., possibly Houstonia purperea var. montana and several other endemics. We also hope to see Rhododendron in late bloom.

We are fortunate to have the legendary goat herder and expert botanist Jamey Donaldson and East Tennessee State University professor Dr. Foster Levi as leaders.

For those who would like to see the Gray’s Lilies without doing the entire hike:

Federal site, if you’re not up to hiking:  In years past, several stems of Gray’s Lilies have been observed blooming beside the road that leads from Carver’s Gap to the federal site, plus along the dirt roads within the federal site. These areas are accessible by automobile, but may require a short walk since parking along the main road to the federal site is not allowed. Note: entry to the federal site requires a fee. 

Lower Part of Round Bald: If into a bit of hiking, a few lilies have in past years been observed part way up the first bald (Round Bald).

Round Bald, Engine Gap and Jane Bald: If wishing to climb Round Bald traverse Engine Gap and optionally climb to the summit of Jane Bald, there should be several sites of lilies growing along the trail and in adjacent meadows. Beyond this, the hike becomes more strenuous on the way up Grassy Ridge Bald.

Sunday, June 25 will consist of a leisurely drive with roadside/overlook stops heading south along the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) to meet at the Asheville Botanical Gardens for a brief tour.

Accommodations for Friday night, June 23, and Saturday June 24, 2017 are up to the participants. Roan Mountain Tennessee State Park has a limited number of two-night-minimum rental cabins a few miles from Carver’s Gap. Some of the cabins can sleep multiple individuals. Cabins may still be available, but they often book up quickly for that time of year. Refer to: http://tnstateparks.com/parks/about/roan-mountain. Cabin reservations can be made either on-line or by phone. The rangers at the park are well-informed and very cooperative. Also, many motels are located in nearby cities in both NC and TN; see


For more hiking information, search the web for “Roan Mountain hike Round Bald to Grassy Ridge Bald”

Bring: Lots of water, snacks, camera, rain gear, and a light jacket (it sometimes gets quite cool even in June). Facilities: an outhouse is at the end of the Carver’s Gap parking lot. The nearby federal area has toilets.

Donations to the Goat Project are welcomed, but not required.

Contact: Jim Drake 678-793-2127 (cell), 678-482-2127 land line